How Rent Strike Became a Tool for Tenants to Reclaim Power
Renting can make one feel powerless because landlords have an advantage in raising rents or making repairs. This is where rent strikes come in. Tenants can organize and refuse to pay rent until their demands are met. During the lockdown, students in the UK organized the largest rent strike in 40 years, resulting in millions of dollars in rent reductions and rebates.
Women as a Driving Force in Housing Justice Campaigns
Women have played a significant role in the history of rent strikes, even if their involvement is often under-recognized. As campaigner and housing academic Glyn Robbins notes, “If you went back and looked at practically every housing justice campaign in the 20th and 21st century almost anywhere in the world, it will be women at the fore.” Despite women’s historical responsibility for the home, they have viewed this as an opportunity to reclaim power and dignity.
Women’s Participation in Rent Strikes
History is full of examples of women who led or participated in rent strikes. In New York in 1907, Pauline Newman organized a rent strike by enlisting 400 working women to stop paying rent and persuade their friends to join. It was the largest rent strike in New York City and catalyzed decades of tenant activism, which led to early rent control legislation. Mary Barbour and her army of working-class women also made history with a rent strike in Glasgow in 1915.
Women Organize Non-Violent and Violent Direct Action
Women have not shied away from non-violent or violent direct action during rent strikes. In Buenos Aires in 1907, housewives defended a young boy from a landlord’s employee by knocking him out, taking off his pants, and kicking him out onto the street. Similarly, women organized community defense during a wave of rent strikes that swept London’s East End in the late 1930s. The Stepney Tenants’ Defence League organized meetings, pickets, and erected barbed wire barricades around tenements to prevent bailiffs from entering.
In conclusion, rent strikes have a long and powerful history, and women have played a crucial role in this fight for housing justice. From the sweatshops of New York to the tenements of Glasgow and the barricades of London, women have organised and fought alongside their communities to demand fair treatment from landlords. Rent strikes are a form of non-violent direct action that can be effective in achieving concrete results for tenants, as seen in the recent UK student rent strike during lockdown. By banding together and withholding rent, tenants can put pressure on landlords to meet their demands and improve living conditions. As the housing crisis continues to deepen around the world, rent strikes may become an increasingly important tool for tenants to assert their rights and demand fair treatment from landlords.